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Libya government forces fight the last 'IS' bastion in Sirte

September 4, 2016

Forces loyal to Libya's unity government have launched a new attack on the "Islamic State" group in the coastal city of Sirte. Recapturing the city would mean a major blow to IS.

Image: picture alliance/abaca/AA

After weeks of US airstrikes, fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord have recaptured nearly all of what had been an "Islamic State" (IS) stronghold in Libya. The GNA media center reported that the final push had begun to retake the city of Sirte, which is located 450 kilometers (280 miles) east of the capital, Tripoli.

"The fighting has begun. We are attacking the last Daesh positions," a GNA fighter told the AFP news agency, using the Arabic term for IS. Meanwhile the media center reported that it had thwarted a suicide bombing.

The fall of Sirte would be a major setback to IS efforts to expand beyond Syria and Iraq, where the group has suffered losses in recent weeks and months.

Liberation of Sirte

Ten members of the GNA forces were killed and 60 wounded in clashes with IS, a doctor at hospital in the city of Misrata reported. The city, located halfway between the Sirte and Tripoli, has become the center where casualties are taken.

More than 400 fighters loyal to the government have been killed and about 2,500 wounded in total since the offensive against Sirte began almost four months ago. The fighting reportedly eased after sunset, according to a journalist who spoke with AFP, with sporadic gunfire on the ground and military aircraft still heard overhead.

The embattled city of Sirte is also the birthplace of former Libyan dictator Moammar GadhafiImage: Reuters/H. Amara

Last weekend, forces loyal to the UN-backed GNA nevertheless reported last weekend that they were preparing to "liberate" the entire city after seizing several IS positions - including the group's headquarters.

On Saturday, the US Africa Command reported that US drones, helicopters and bombers had carried out a total of 108 airstrikes against IS in Sirte since the US campaign began on August 1. According to Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, fewer than 200 IS jihadists remained, and they should all be surrounded by security forces.

The GNA continues to struggle to assert its control over all of Libya, as sectarian differences have continued to drive various groups apart since the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

ss/kl (AFP, Reuters)